Wednesday, February 15, 2006

a turning of tides.

i'm not shutting up about marriage yet. actually, i haven't even gotten to marriage yet, i'm only going to shut up about engagement after this post. so many issues, so little time.

i mentioned in my last post on the subject that despite all my misgivings about the idea of getting engaged (and thus getting married, but again, that's almost a whole 'nother ball of wax), i have not ruled it out for BoyCat and myself. why? short answer: i dunno. isn't it obvious i'm just flailing about through life with nary a clue as to what i'm doing?

long answer:

i'm guessing that the seat of my reluctance to completely buck the trend of engagement is social conditioning. i know, it's not as sexy as repressed memories or the revelation that i'm the second coming of elizabeth taylor or anything, but i think it's true. no matter how rationally we can parse something, no matter how resolutely we can claim to be beyond the need for something so obviously socially constructed (and thus socially controlling), the undertow of what is expected can pull us under. that's the way social conditioning works, for gods sake - if it weren't so persuasive, would everybody be doing it? not to sound like i'm channelling a fundie here, but marriage is a cornerstone of how our society functions - the nuclear family, and its gender roles, are intrinsic to maintaining the status quo. and it's any society's ultimate aim to maintain the status quo and keep things humming along smoothly.

but feminists, myself among them, don't want patriarchy to keep skipping along on its merry, injust, dehumanizing way. radical feminists don't merely want to allow women to be able to play a man's game - we want to change the way the whole game is played. so as a radical feminist, when you see all the ways - subtle and glaring, insidious and overtly threatening - that society asks you to shut up and play along, don't you want to challenge that? when you see the way that the path of serious relationship, engagement, marriage, children, house in the suburbs is what's expected, when you're told that's what you're supposed to want, don't you want to say "pardon me, but fuck that"?

i don't know about you, but i do.


i feel like my life is often a turning of tides between two poles - the pole of stasis, stability, conformity, what is expected, and the pole of dynamism, movement, rebellion, what is unexpected. i'd like to say that the ideal way to handle that is to find a way to integrate these two forces in my life - to allow for a little bit of both. but i think that's too easy. i think one side of you would always be accusing the other of treachery. but maybe that's the price you pay, maybe that's the way you have to compromise.

i will get engaged. i won't wear a diamond ring. i will wear a physical signifier of the engagement. i will try to figure out a way for BoyCat to wear one too. i will tell people i am engaged. i will smile inside each time they look down at my empty left hand, and look up again in confusion. i will entertain questions about the dress, the location, the cake, the flowers. i will have a warehouse of slightly sarcastic answers if the questioner is annoying me.

maybe this is all true, maybe it's not. to get back to my short answer, i honestly don't know. because really, we haven't even scratched the surface of the fundamental issue, which is behind why people get engaged in the first place: marriage.

before i can seriously answer the question of whether i want to get engaged, i have to figure out if i want to get married.


Kate said...

I can understand what kinds of thinking you're going through right now, they're exactly the same things I thought about. My husband and I have slightly different levels of radicalness so we found ways to compromise. We both wanted to marry because of the deeper commitment it entails; there really was something special about standing before friends and family and being married, and about signing the license. The legal status really meant something to us.

But we did things differently. I do have an engagement ring but it's a sapphire (which, even though I did wear it on my left ring finger, was continually considered a "regular" ring and lots of people had no idea I was engaged). My husband and I don't believe in God, so my sister and best friend were our celebrants. I got married in my parents backyard, didn't wear a white dress, didn't take his name, etc etc.

I sometimes wonder, did the fact we did it differently really make a difference? I do think it did. Our vows completely inspired a lot of the folks at the wedding (we wrote our own) and lots of very religious family approached us afterwards telling us it was the most beautiful wedding they'd ever been to, and we could tell they meant it.

Being married does feel different, and it's easy to let societal conditioning into the relationship. TD and I have had to be mindful of that. It's not always easy, but I think we communicate and listen incredibly well to each other, which helps.

Anyway, just some thoughts...

Toast said...

Traditional marriage is only as much of a "system of control" as the participants let it be. There is no reason a man and a woman can't marry and go live in a house in the 'burbs and still have a totally fulfilling and egalitarian relationship. If they have a kid or two and the woman elects to stay home and care for them, that doesn't mean she's being "oppressed".

I consider myself pretty far left politically (and I think my stance on most issues bears that out). My wife was a libertarian in her twenties but has now "gone liberal" on economic issues. Know what? We absolutely adore the 50's-esque domestic life we've made for ourselves. (At the moment we both work, but if we get lucky with IVF, she plans to stay home with the kid for as long as we can afford it.) No conflict here. We're not slaves to The System. She's not being ground under the heel of the patriarchy. We're just two people making a nice life for ourselves.

kate.d. said...

toast, i'm at work, but i just wanted to say real quickly that i'm not trying to judge other people's personal choices here. i said that in the first post on all this stuff, and i know it can be easy to forget given my random and cockamamie ideas about this stuff. but honestly, i'm not everyone, and everyone is not me, and so i don't purport to know what's right or wrong universally.

i do think that it's fair to say, though, that even though individual marriages may vary greatly in structure and content, marriage as a societal instrument is still used as a means of order and control.


Toast said...

I'd say it's a pretty poor means of control, given that it's not compulsory and that marriages can be fairly easily dissolved through divorce. But, in any case, I'd really need to see more examples of what, exactly, you consider "control".

kate.d. said...

I'd really need to see more examples of what, exactly, you consider "control".

indeed, there are a few posts worth of stuff in my head, just around these issues. i will get to it all one day!

for now, i'd make the point that while divorce is very commonplace, so is re-marriage. you'd think many people, after having such a variety of harrowing experiences in their first marriages, would swear off the institution. but they don't. why? a number of reasons, to be sure, but i'd guess the fact that marriage is the "ideal" status for people above 30 has something to do with it.

and sure it's not compulsory. if you don't mind your friends and family hounding you about "when you're going to settle down already" until your death :)

more thoughts eventually.....

souljourner said...

marriage is definitely between 2 people. i agree with kate. there is something special about standing before your family and friends and making a public declaration of your love. not that you are succumbing to society's pressure or expectations, but because you want to extend your love to those that you love. good luck in finding your way.

GC (God's Child) said...

yeah, the house in the suburbs, the nuclear family, all that. Society tells us to want that. If I want that though, what does that say about me? I guess what I'm asking is can I want to get married, want children, want engagement, want a diamond ring and still be a feminist? In my mind, yes, I can and do I really give a fart what other people thing? But still, I sort of do.

I used to read mysteries by Amanda Cross and her Kate Fansler character is often downing motherhood and other things like that. One shouldn't feel baddly if one doesn't want children. But the way she put it, I felt as if she was saying women who do want children are brainwashed, numbsculled breeding machines.

Toast said...

"for now, i'd make the point that while divorce is very commonplace, so is re-marriage."

Yep. And having done both, I've got to say I'm thrilled with the results.

BigBuddhaPuppy said...

The most radical thing you can do, if that is what you are looking for, is to do whatever you want to do...ring, no ring...engagement, no engagement,...courthouse, church, whirling what is right for you...not some ideals set up from traditional society, or traditional feminism for that matter...

Be true to yourself...